Tony Hill and Susan Hughes, Pollen Studios Gallery, Belfast January 17 -19,2019

My essay on Tony Hill‘s art exhibited at this three days event is on

Here I wish to focus on Susan Hughes. 

I shall fail to make justice to her multiple talents.  On the last afternoon, she played the violin, the performance I missed.

A sample from another concert given at her 2018 exhibition at Framewerk, Belfast,  is accessible on

She connects the violin to her visual art in a way we all connect sound and vision when staying/walking in any environment. That connection is not causal,  both perceptions happen in parallel, with unexpected crossings over, sometimes one overrules the other

as apparent in the line of her memory of arctic terns:”…the island was quiet…” (the birds were not)

The absence of human activity forging that silence is significant. She admits the forming influence of her father’s knowledge of birds, and her living on islands: Rathlin, UK, Hrisey, Iceland as significant conditions for her art.

Kría is the Icelandic word for Arctic tern
In June 2018 I spent one month in Northern Iceland on a small island which has the largest breeding colony of Arctic terns in Europe. The island was quiet (almost dead in fact) in terms of human activity but the birds, whales, and midnight sun kept life vivid, strange and exciting. Sleep was never deep, dreams were always remembered (

Noticeable geometric “bleeding” from terns’ wings and beak may appear as a whimsical addition. Until – I saw Hughes’s snapshot of terns in the air (below) – the narrow line of their tail shooting out as if from the wings.


Also, on her website, she linked two experiences across time and distance: the flying birds and casting bronze 4000 years ago…

At a Bronze Age symposium in Kerry this August I explored ancient and sophisticated processes, learning from others, offering my music in return for their knowledge. In bronze, casting sprues are created in the mould to allow air to escape the outermost points and most fragile ends of the object. After the intensity of the symposium where we essentially went back in time 4000 years, these sprue lines began to present themselves in my recent paintings of terns; helping to find structure in space, to support the sharpened fragile points of the birds, to let the air escape… (ibidem)

Remembering Bronze, Island Series, December 2018, oil on wood

The above small painting is significant not just for its inspiration (the symposium)  but also for connecting to all other exhibits: the snow paintings, the assemblages, and the videos,  by its reduced palette. It is not completely gris-en-gris, whispers of blue and other shades of grey, typical for northern daylight infuse it with life.

The five videos

Alarm, and Bruresmarsi (Wedding March) both Norway, 2015

Rue Light,  West Light, both Rathlin, 2016

Fairy Pylon, Kerry, 2018, (whistle Robert Harvey)

appear in full on

Some editing decisions are diminishing the aesthetic experience, e.g. the black dividers of the flow, whereas, the sober lengths/duration holds the viewer’s attention. Thankful for the absence of egocentric abundance.

The small objects  Snow Paintings, December 2018 (mixed media on card) are confident in association with mid 20th assemblage and Frank Stella’s mixed media as well as earlier Modernism.

Frank Stella: La scienza della pigrizia, 1984. NG Washington accessed on Wikipedia_

The display on the shelf accentuated the similarity to small handheld sculptures, whereas the layers of material and modulated hues claim painterly domain as their own.

It would appear, where Arp insists on a chance, Hughes focuses on the match between the shapes and experience of wintery sensations while making space for a memory of home.

(Statement on the gallery handout reads: Much of this work was created in Hallingdal, Norway in December surrounded by deep snow with a few hours of soft daylight. While influenced by these sensations and colours I was drawn back to the coast and relationships of home as subject matter) There is more of her texts on

Other echoes of Modernism, e.g. Juan Gris, Le Gueridon, 1922  in objects penetrating each other to awaken association with the sound, are not necessarily intended, yet, appeal with the allowance for different media.

I am happy to risk being wrong, as the links are with significant art. Hughes’ images are comfortable and confident in that company.


Images courtesy Susan Hughes unless otherwise stated.



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Slavka Sverakova

writer on art

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